Thursday, July 5, 2007

What to believe?

Lately, many economists who write books, have a penchant for writing books that arrive at and/or justify unintuitive outcomes. The first of such books I read was Freakonomics, which was indeed a very different and engrossing book that dared to take a fresh look at why certain things happened the way they did.

An unexpected twist in a story makes the story very interesting and hard-to-forget. This is the reason we tend to like movies with an unexpected ending or a thriller-book with an unexpected culprit etc. This fundamental nature of human psychology is the selling point for books like Freakonomics. More often than not, these books are indeed very interesting, but beyond a point, once you start expecting every section of the book to have an unexpected outcome, the degree of unexpected-ness and the freshness of the idea wear out.

I gather, from an introduction to one such book, that it should not be surprising that Doctors are involved in suicide bombing missions. The problem with such a high-impact statement is that, it can easily be misinterpreted to mean that Doctors are likely to be involved in suicide missions. That is, in fact, not what it means. It simply means that given an act of terrorism has been committed, it is highly likely that an educated individual is the perpetrator of the heinous act. The difference is subtle and is difficult to grasp and perceive when you're reading such books' excerpts perfunctorily. And the beauty of human psychology is, it is such perfunctory reading that piques your interest in such books. But still, the fact that acts of terror are often committed by highly educated individuals is by itself interesting, and I'm sure I'll read What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism at the first chance I get. So, you can rest assured that your Doctor is (most likely) not conspiring with the terrorist-warlords of the world.

UPDATE (July 13, 2007): An Indian Doctor is charged in UK terror attack.

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